Hello, Earth! Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Image result for hello earth joyce sidman
Image result for hello earth joyce sidman

Summary:  Newbery Honor poet Joyce Sidman explores different aspects of Earth in these poems addressed to the planet itself.  There’s a sense of wonder, “How can we be here, climbing trees, walking paths, staring up at constellations…and also out in deepest space?”  There are poems about volcanoes, earthquakes, jungles, and mountains.  Taken together, the poems are a love letter to Earth, and a promise to take care of the planet.  Includes six pages of additional information about each topic addressed; resources about climate change, ways kids can help, and citizen science projects; and a list of books for further reading.  68 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This beautifully illustrated book of poems celebrates Earth and many aspects of earth science.  The poems and illustrations are accessible to kids in primary grades, and the extensive back matter makes it useful for older kids to explore further.

Cons:  Earth doesn’t seem to have any answers for all the questions.

12 books of Christmas

Starting the day after Christmas, I’ll be posting my year-end lists of Caldecott and Newbery predictions and my favorite books in different categories. I found myself with an higher-than-usual number of books at the end of the year that I had wanted to review, but didn’t get to before time ran out. That number turned out to be twelve, so as a little Christmas gift, here is a list of my final dozen books for 2020.

Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Thomas Nelson

Tani's New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America: Adewumi,  Tanitoluwa, Dawson, Courtney: 9781400218288: Amazon.com: Books

The true story of Tani Adewumi, who moved to New York City as a Nigerian refugee at the age of 6. He discovered chess, and practiced it for hours in a homeless shelter. In less than a year, he was the New York State Chess Champion. I haven’t had a chance to see this book. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, so I’m not sure if there is any religious content to the story. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Louisa Uribe

Published by HarperCollins

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5: Dealey, Erin, Uribe, Luisa:  9780062915320: Amazon.com: Books

The kids in room 5 begin a correspondence with Earth, learning different ways to help the planet like recycling and energy conservation. Rhyming text, letter writing, and environmental tips make this an appealing choice for Earth Day or any time of year. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War by Bassel Abou Fakher and Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Saving Stella: A Dog's Dramatic Escape from War: Fakher, Bassel Abou,  Blumenthal, Deborah, Kaadan, Nadine: 9781547601332: Amazon.com: Books

When Bassel was forced to flee Syria, he had to leave his beloved dog Stella behind. After settling in a new home in Belgium, he worked with friends back in Syria to create a daring plan to rescue Stella. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Rabbit, Raven, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illustrated by Jennifer Faria

Published by Pajama Press

Raven, Rabbit, Deer: Farrell Holler, Sue, Faria, Jennifer: 9781772781366:  Amazon.com: Books

There’s a copy of this book traveling to my library right now, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. A boy and his grandfather enjoy a winter’s day together, finding animal tracks and identifying the animals in both English and Ojibwemowin. Sounds like a cozy winter choice. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When You Trap a Tiger: Keller, Tae: 9781524715717: Amazon.com: Books

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily meets a tiger straight out of the Korean folklore she’s grown up on. This book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor and received five starred reviews. Personally, I couldn’t really get into it and only read about the first third back in the beginning of the year. Everyone else loved it, though, and it could definitely be a contender for more awards. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

Published by Kokila

Antiracist Baby Board Book: Kendi, Ibram X., Lukashevsky, Ashley:  9780593110416: Amazon.com: Books

Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is #15 on Amazon’s list of 2020’s bestsellers. Here he offers nine tips for being (or raising) an antiracist baby, with a note to parents and teachers at the end. Available as both a board book and a regular picture book. 32 pages; ages 0-4.

Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang, illustrated by Heidi Doll

Published by Reycraft Books

Woodpecker Girl: Chiang, I-Tsun, Liu, Chingyen: 9781478869559: Amazon.com:  Books

A girl with cerebral palsy tells how she learned to paint with a brush strapped to her forehead. An amazing gallery of her work is included. Told in the first person, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges she faces and the discouragement she feels, but also expresses her joy at sharing with others through her art. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Greenwillow Books

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Amazon.com: Books

I just got this book on December 23, so haven’t had a chance to read it. These 100 poems by Young People’s Poet Laureate Nye start with a section of poems on childhood, both her own and others. She also explores her Palestinian heritage and the need for peace, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of people in the world. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Unstoppable: (Family Read-Aloud book, Silly Book About Cooperation) -  Kindle edition by Rex, Adam, Park, Laura. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

A crow being pursued by a hungry cat and a crab who dreams of flying work together to help one another. When they add a turtle and a bear, they become UNSTOPPABLE! At least until they see a bulldozer digging up the lakefront to build a mall. Then it’s off to see the President of the United States…and Congress…and things really get zany as only Adam Rex can imagine them. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood  (9780374313715): Shulevitz, Uri: Books - Amazon.com

Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz’s memoir covers his childhood from his days in Warsaw at the start of World War II to his family’s harrowing experiences in the Soviet Union during the war and their postwar years in Paris before emigrating to Paris when he was 14. Although it’s a thick book, the print is large and filled with Shulevitz’s illustrations, making it a quick and engaging read. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Published by Barefoot Books

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India: Sriram, Meera, Cabassa, Mariona:  9781646860616: Amazon.com: Books

Another one I haven’t gotten to see, but I love the brilliant colors of the cover (and pictures I’ve seen of the illustrations). A girl shops in an Indian market to find the perfect gift for her mother. 32 pages; ages 4-7.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

Published by Charlesbridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire: Tunnell, Michael  O.: 9781580897891: Amazon.com: Books

When Mae Yanagi was eight years old, she and her family were forced to move to Topaz Camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. She and her third-grade classmates created a diary of their daily lives in camp, filled with mundane details about school and family life, as well as descriptions of the difficulties of camp life. Michael Tunnell tells their story with plenty of photographs and excerpts from the diary. 144 pages; grades 4-7.

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis

Published by Neal Porter Books

Amazon.com: A New Green Day (9780823444885): Portis, Antoinette: Books
Antoinette Portis on A New Green Day | The TeachingBooks Blog

Summary:  “Morning lays me on your pillow,/an invitation, square and warm./Come out and play!” So begins the day for the girl shown in the book.  Turn the page and you’ll see this poem was said by the sunlight.  On the facing page is another poem.  Each spread has this format: the answer to the previous poem and another riddle.  The speakers are animals (a snail, a tadpole); things (a pebble, mud), and weather (clouds, thunder).  Day turns into night, and the final voice speaks: “I am the engine/of the summer dark./Sleep, while I thrum/in your tomorrow.”  It’s a cricket…and a green new day.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This book has been on my radar for months now, and I am delighted to have finally seen it.  It’s deceptively small and simple, but, like many of Antoinette Portis’s books, makes you want to slow down and notice all the little miracles in nature.  Both the poems and the illustrations are beautifully crafted, and can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.  Portis won a Sibert honor last year for Hey, Water!.  Maybe one of these years she will receive a well-deserved Caldecott.

Cons:  At first I thought this might be a fun book to have kids guess who was saying each poem, but I think some would be too tricky for younger kids (they were too tricky for me).

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Kenard Pak

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

On the Horizon: Lowry, Lois, Pak, Kenard: 9780358129400: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Lois Lowry lived in both Hawaii and Japan as a child, and her poems here reflect some of her experiences in those two countries during World War II.  The bulk of the poetry, though, relates personal stories, both of people aboard the Arizona and those living in Hiroshima.  The poems are written in a variety of styles, and most are accompanied by an illustration.  Includes an author’s note telling of her experiences that influenced this book.  Most remarkable is her interaction with a Japanese boy named Koichi Seii, who moved to the U.S. as an adult and changed his name to Allen Say, becoming an award-winning illustrator and Lowry’s friend.  Aso includes a bibliography.  80 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  By focusing on individuals (many of them children or young adults), Lowry really personalizes the tragedy of war.  The details may be too sad or disturbing for younger kids, but middle school students will find a lot to discuss in these poems.

Cons:  I wish there had been some information about the different forms of poetry used.

Wild Symphony by Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori

Published by Rodale Kids

Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books
Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Maestro Mouse is your guide through this musical romp starring the animal kingdom.  Each page includes a poem or two about the featured animal, concluding with a sign held by Maestro Mouse offering a lesson that can be derived from the poem.  Sharp-eyed readers will also spot letters in each picture that, when put together, spell out a word.  The animals and words come together in the final gatefold page that shows all the animals playing music in an orchestra.  Includes an author’s note from Dan Brown (yes, that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and many other books for adults) and endpapers showing and identifying the different musical instruments.  Also includes an app that can be downloaded to listen to musical accompaniment throughout the story.  44 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  A fun introduction to both animals and musical instruments.  I did not download the app, but it sounds like an enjoyable way to experience the music introduced in the book.  The hidden letters and coded words will please those who like puzzles.

Cons:  Poems, a series of (didactic) lessons, musical instruments, hidden letters, word scrambles, and an app that plays music…felt like a bit too much to unpack for one picture book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

This Poem Is a Nest by Irene Latham, art by Johanna Wright

Published by Wordsong

This Poem Is a Nest: Latham, Irene, Wright, Johanna: 9781684373635: Amazon.com:  Books
This Poem Is a Nest: Latham, Irene, Wright, Johanna: 9781684373635: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  Poet Irene Latham starts with a poem about a bird’s nest divided into four three-verse sections, one for each season.  She then uses the words from this poem to create new short poems.  The titles use different words, but all the words for each poem come from the original work; thus, the new poems are “nestlings” from the original “Nest”.  The nestlings are divided into seven sections about time (two sections), colors, emotions, wordplay, and places.  Most poems are 3-5 lines long with just a word or two in each line.  Includes an introduction, tips on how to choose a nest poem and create nestlings of your own, and an index of poem titles.  112 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I love this concept, a bit of a twist on found poetry, and would enjoy trying it with a group of kids.  The poems are brief, but each one really speaks: “First Poem-Draft: ink squeaks/with hope”.  “Playing the Trumpet: glittery trill/golden thrum–/splashsong!”  Simple enough to be a good introduction to poetry in early grades, yet expressive enough to use with older kids, and plenty here to encourage active poetry writing.

Cons:  I loved the illustrations, and wouldn’t have minded seeing one on every page.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Published by Chronicle Books

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson (Emily  Dickinson for Kids, Biography of Female Poet for Kids): Berne, Jennifer,  Stadtlander, Becca: 9781452142975: Amazon.com: Books
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson (Emily  Dickinson for Kids, Biography of Female Poet for Kids): Berne, Jennifer,  Stadtlander, Becca: 9781452142975: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Emily Dickinson’s life story is told from beginning to end, with her poetry woven into almost every page.  Her internal life is explored, how she loved books and sought answers when confronted with deaths of people near her.  As she grew older, she withdrew more, focusing on her writing and only interacting with a few people who were close to her.  Following her death in 1886, her sister Vinnie found hundreds of poems tucked away around her house, and the world began to discover the poet Emily Dickinson.  Includes additional information about Emily’s poetry; how to discover the world of poetry; a few books by and about Emily; and notes from the author and illustrator. 52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This gorgeously illustrated biography is an excellent introduction to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and gives readers some glimpses into Dickinson’s life and why she chose to live the way she did.  The back matter provides additional inspiration for aspiring poets.

Cons:  As someone who has wished for a good elementary biography of Emily Dickinson (she’s a hot topic for third graders when they get to their unit on famous Massachusetts people), I was disappointed that this book didn’t include much of the factual biographical information (when she was born, where she lived, etc.) that kids are seeking for reports. A timeline would have been helpful and not taken away from the lyrical nature of the writing.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It: Pinkney, Andrea Davis,  Pinkney, Brian: 9780316536776: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  The three voices that “tell it” belong to Loretta Little, a sharecropper’s daughter growing up in Mississippi from 1927 to 1930; Loretta’s younger brother Roly, who narrates from 1942 to 1950; and Roly’s daughter, Aggie B., whose years span 1962 to 1968.  Inspired by the oral tradition, their narratives of hardship, poverty, love, and fights for civil rights are told in their own voices, supplemented by poems and illustrations.  Includes an author’s note; an illustrator’s note; additional information on the dramatic form; information on sharecroppers; thumbnail portraits and descriptions of real-life people who appear in the Littles’ stories; and a list of resources for further reading and sharing.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The Pinkneys have produced another work of art that is sure to get some attention at awards time.  The monologues are designed for reading aloud, and could be performed all together, or as individual pieces.  The poems and illustrations tie all three narratives together beautifully.

Cons:  I would have liked the information on the dramatic form at the beginning of the book.  I read this as one would a regular novel, and found it a bit of a slog.  It’s much more lively when considering it as a performance piece.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

Published by Charlesbridge

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History - Kindle  edition by Bradley, Jeanette, Metcalf, Lindsay H., Dawson, Keila V.,  Bradley, Jeanette. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
No Voice Too Small – Charlesbridge

Summary:  Fourteen poems by different writers and using different poetic forms tell the stories of ordinary children and teens who have made a difference in their communities.  Through writing, music, fundraising, speaking, and more these kids have tackled issues from climate change to diseases to civil rights.  Each poem includes a portrait and a short paragraph about the subject.  The kids’ stories are bookended by two poems called “Amplify” and “Make Some Noise” about the importance of standing up and speaking out.  Includes definitions of the different poetry forms and photos with additional information about all the poets.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  It would be hard not to be inspired by the kids in this book, and their stories are told in an accessible way, through poetry, prose, and art.  Teachers and students will find this book useful for getting ideas for making a difference as well as learning different forms of poetry.

Cons:  The taped-down library jacket flaps covered up some of the kids’ inspiring quotes on the endpapers.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

Published by Jimmy Patterson Books (Little, Brown)

Becoming Muhammad Ali - Kindle edition by Patterson, James, Alexander,  Kwame, Anyabwile, Dawud. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Round One: Cassius Clay’s friend Lucky and the rest of Cassius’s friends and family are awaiting the results of the 1958 Golden Gloves championship.  16-year-old Cassius is in Chicago, 300 miles from his home in Louisville, KY.  The phone rings, and the story shifts to Cassius’s voice, told in verse.  Clay didn’t win that championship, but he relates how he got there: the friends and relatives who influenced him, the events that led him to boxing, the unflagging discipline and confidence that helped him in his training.  By the time we get to Round Nine, Cassius is ready to return to the Golden Gloves competition and become a champion.  Lucky introduces each round, then finishes with a Final Round, in which he tells what happened to Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, during the rest of his career.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Apparently, Kwame Alexander has been a Muhammad Ali fan since he read Ali’s autobiography as a kid, and he uses his considerable poetic talents to bring the boxer life.  I wasn’t sure I liked Lucky’s prose sections at first, but they did flesh out the story, setting up the action for the poetry parts. This is sure to be an enormously popular choice for kids.

Cons:  I’m curious about the collaboration James Patterson, who seems more like a brand than an actual author these days.  I would have preferred this to be the sole work of Kwame Alexander, whom I’m sure could have pulled it off without any help.

If you would like to buy this on Amazon, click here.